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10 Burlesque Costume Tips for DIY Performers

10 Burlesque Costume Tips for DIY Performers

10 Burlesque Costume Tips for DIY Performers

If you want the finest craftswoman in the burlesque costume business – you go to Manuge Et Toi. Or rather, you apply to be considered!

Christina Manuge’s original designs, impeccable finish and eagle eye for detail makes her one of the most in demand costume wizards in burlesque. Her Instagram feed is a glitzy wall of dreamy, extravagant illusion pasties, and pornographic levels of precise stitch-work.

So who better to deliver 10 DIY costume tips for burlesque performers? Read on for the full down-low.

1: Plan your Vision

Planning is absolutely essential. You may be able to improvise a pretty awesome act, embellishment, or costume – but whether you’re a burlesque performer or maker, you know the only way to create something truly devastating is by design. That means planning, perfecting and then executing the vision. 

My first stage of design is inspiration gathering (yes, even though clients provide me with theirs) and research. Thinking on the practicalities and aesthetic value of each aspect, I then bring it together into a cohesive design. Of the total time I spend creating a burlesque costume, at least half is spent in preparation for the final production. By the time I start making the final pieces, I know exactly what to do and how it will work out. 

Roxi D'Lite. ©Derek Jackson
Roxi D’Lite in a Manuge Et Toi burlesque costume. ©Derek Jackson

2: Research

Research! Look for inspiration everywhere. Gather photos of things you find inspiring, beautiful, or interesting. Make notes. Play with materials. Practice your skills. Learn new things. 

In terms of creating original designs, know that everything has been done before. Even if you think you’ve invented something totally original, you’re unlikely to be the only one to have ever thought of it. The key is to make it special and unique to you.

3: Plan your budget

Budget is important. While it’s good to know what your limits are, my experience is that it’s best to start with the vision. When you compare that to your budget, you may realize the importance of certain details. Sometimes you get a reality check and need to reel yourself in. Sometimes you realise your priorities and resolve to hustle harder for that extra dough.

But it’s important to see where your ideas could go, before you start reining them in. You can always find ways to cut things back where needed. In my mind, it’s better to consciously weigh what you’re choosing to give up versus the cost, seeing if/how it will affect the end product. 

4: Don’t be a Copy-Cat

It’s crucial to avoid copying – if for no other reason than to be respectful of other burlesque artists.

Let’s say you see something that inspires you. You’re in love with it. Obsessed! What do you do? How can you use this inspiration for your own costume, without (accidentally) copying it? Here’s my advice:

Pin point what is the kernel of your inspiration. Is it the silhouette? A certain style, line or detail? Let your own design flow from this one thing, creating something new and cohesive. 

If you can’t get that full image out of your mind, pick another (not your favourite) detail out of the design, and change it. Improve upon the change you made. Then change something more. Keep on going with this, changing everything that’s not the kernel. Then, maybe tweak the kernel to fit into your new design better! Don’t look back at the original inspiration until you think you’re miles away from it. 

Now compare them. Are the designs obviously different (not just the colours or a few details, but as a whole)? Do you like yours just as much, if not more? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you’ve succeeded! If not, try again and look for more inspiration. Think about things you love from different designs which could be incorporated. Start from what you love most and work out from there. 

Roxi D’Lite in a burlesque costume by Manuge Et Toi. Image: Naked Lens Photography

5: Master the Basics

When it comes right down to it, stripping involves removing garments that are flattering, in a way that’s attractive and interesting. If you try avoiding the classics you’ll quickly be reminded of why they’re classics in the first place.

You can be a great burlesque performer and a good sewer, but lack imagination when it comes to costuming. That’s okay; just keep it simple and stick to classic pieces – Boston bra, corset, panel skirt – and focus on quality. Let your imagination thrive in your performance. Keep in mind that the design genius (or lack thereof) of your burlesque costume is less important than the content and delivery of your act. 

6: Invest in learning

Don’t be too proud to seek advice, take classes, watch tutorials and practice your skills. 

It’s worth investing in sewing classes and learning this craft. I have never regretted a single moment of instruction – even on subjects I already knew a lot about! Take advantage of every learning opportunity. Even on the rare occasion that you don’t learn something new, you’ll come away with more confidence in your existing skills and knowledge.

Of course I think you should sign up for Tips on Tap on Patreon! But there are so many resources out there. Find what works best for you.

A pastie and string set by Manuge Et Toi. Supplied by Christina Manuge.

7: Embellish Like a Pro

More crystals are not always better. If you make EVERYTHING sparkly, you can lose a lot of style, richness and detail behind all that light reflection! There’s a lot to be said for choosing to hold back on the sparkle. 

When it comes to designing patterns, utilising colour palette and quality of crystal, here are a few pointers:

  • Use a variety of stone sizes.
  • Experiment with colour.
  • Use good glue and don’t let me see it on your finished product!
  • Be precise. 
  • Plan ahead.
  • Use the best stones you can afford, and don’t hesitate to mix qualities if needed. (Use the best ones for your smallest bits/final reveals!)

8: Stitch Clean

A poor quality burlesque costume can be a distraction from the action. My #1 goal with Tips on Tap is to help you improve the quality of your costumes.

Two things: 

  • If your pieces are well finished, they will last longer. 
  • You can often hide a messy interior with careful movement. But wouldn’t it be better to be able to play freely with your costume, knowing that it looks cohesive and won’t embarrass you when someone catches a glimpse? 
Kalani Kokonuts in a Manuge Et Toi burlesque costume. Image: Robert Alvarado
Kalani Kokonuts in a Manuge Et Toi burlesque costume. Image: Robert Alvarado

9: Perfect Your Pasties

To make your pasties unique, treat them like tiny works of art. Focus attention on precision with the layout and rhinestone placement so that they look as perfect as possible. Dodgy details distract.

Consider what they will look like from far away. A trick for doing this is to take a look at it in a mirror from a few feet away, or across the room. When I get close to finishing a pastie, I’ll change the final stone groupings around a few times to see which variation plays best from that view. Working on something so small, you’d be amazed how minute adjustments can make a huge impact on the end product. 

To make things easier, you can buy ready-made Manuge Et Toi pasties and g-strings.

Burlesque pasties by Manuge Et Toi. Supplied by Christina Manuge.

10: Choose your Tassel

When choosing your tassel – go with what your boobs tell you! Some boobs are great at handling the extra weight of beaded tassels. Some boobs would rather deal with a soft, light fringe. Universally, the most weighted part of the tassel should be at least an inch away from the centre of the pastie. Be sure you have a good spinner and strong pastie adhesion! 

You can get all of Christina Manuge’s Tips on Tap by subscribing to her Patreon.

Christina will be teaching her costuming techniques in a series of three lectures at BurlyCon 2020, November 5-8 in Seattle.

Follow her on Instagram @manugeettoi and visit for more inspiration.

COPYRIGHT 2023 21st Century Burlesque Magazine. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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